I love anger. In my atypical Jewish family, it was somehow always acceptable to express anger and rage as and when it came up which, for me, was all the time. We were a yelling family with a mother who, in summer, would admonish us not to shut up but to close the windows.
As a young adult — first in college and then beyond — I could see that this freedom would not always put me in the best light. It was one thing to let loose in my family home with people I didn’t like and whose opinions I didn’t care anything about. It was quite another to be living with people I did like and who, for their own reasons, weren’t necessarily big fans of living out loud. I later came to see that they were actually part of a very large majority when, as a therapist, most every client I had came from a place where anger was not appreciated, not felt, not expressed, and certainly not processed. So now it was clear: the knee-jerk, constant expression of anger and rage whenever it arose was not a winning strategy but neither was ignoring it as though it wasn’t actually lurking inside one’s human experience. Got it.
Then I became the Spiritual Workout guy and, more generally, the consciousness guy, and that’s when I began to see anger — starting with my own — in completely new ways. I learned that anger was not the end of the line. I learned that it was not something to be managed. I learned that it had value and purpose. I learned that I had been profoundly mis-using and mis-understanding it. Most importantly, I learned that except for the benefit of releasing it and not allowing it to build up in my system, how I dealt with anger was mostly a gargantuan waste of time and energy and, ultimately, made matters worse.
Today, as an American citizen desiring an entirely new, far more conscious politics, I no doubt share many of the end goals of so many who are so angry and upset with our government and our politics right now. In short: functional, responsive government and a world that works for everyone. Yes? But I part company with my friends and friends I haven’t yet met and fellow citizens and activists who are consumed with fighting, protesting, and resisting. That’s because so much of this approach flies in the face of some basic principles of conscious living, if you’ll indulge me.
Anger As an Opportunity to Practice Presence
To be sure, many of us have been taught to channel our political anger — I do not accept this; I do not want this; I do not like this; He is not my president — into protesting and fighting and resisting. On its face, based on everything we’ve been taught and have experienced, this is not a terrible thing to do. But ultimately, it’s an approach that flies in the face of a foundational component of conscious living: to be present.
At its core, anger is really nothing more than complete and utter non-acceptance of what is. Volumes have been written for millennia about why and how to be present (one of 15 concepts that make up the consciousness training I do). And “mindfulness” — in the workplace and beyond — is all the rage today so its value as a value has been well-established. We’re not bad people for thinking “non-accepting” thoughts and feeling the anger, rage, frustration, and fear that accompany them. Let’s just call them the old consciousness, the way we did things before we knew differently. Because now we know that resistance to what is, is futile.
We also often have thoughts like This is really bad; This is so wrong; This is unfair; His supporters are idiots. For the record, “bad,” “wrong,” “unfair,” and “idiots” are judgments. Being present means accepting everything as it is and it also means doing so without judgment. The trap of judgment is that without even realizing it, we get all caught up in “bad” and “wrong” and “unfair” and “idiots” by thinking about all the “bad” and “wrong” and “unfair” and “idiotic” things that exist and by talking again and again with our friends and fellow activists about “bad” and “wrong” and “unfair” and “idiots,” ad nauseam. If you’re new to this, accepting everything as it is without judgment can be a tall order but it gets easier, I promise. You can practice right now: He’s president. It is. We are where we are. These are statements of acceptance, non-resistance and non-judgment. They neither condemn nor condone. They are neutral and I invite you to take note of how they feel.
Anger As a Springboard
Neutral is a far better place from which to act than is anger. The trap most of us fall into — and I most certainly did when I was a kid getting all embroiled in torrents of it all the time — is that we think anger is the end of the line. We want to justify it, which requires staying focused on the very thing(s) we don’t like or want. We stay angry lest anyone think we are okay with what we’re not okay with. There can be a very satisfying aspect to anger on a feeling level, particularly if prior to the anger we have felt sad or lonely or depressed or guilty or hopeless or any number of emotions that feel even worse than anger. Not to mention that if our friends, fellow activists, and co-workers are angry, too, there’s a boatload of camaraderie and connection that also feels pretty damn good.
But the very best thing about anger is also the thing that goes completely unnoticed when we are not going about it consciously. That is, how it puts us in touch with exactly what we’d prefer to experience. When we are angry, really angry, we essentially draw a line about what is and what isn’t acceptable to us. Excellent! That’s what I love about anger — knowing for sure what it is I do not want to experience. But then, because we’re not so well-trained, we focus all of our attention on what isn’t acceptable to us, which makes no sense because of a little bugger called the law of attraction and how it’s always on. It’s about knowing that what we focus on grows.
The unnoticed opportunity, then, right under our noses, rendered by this abundant clarity about what we don’t like or want — is to mine the juicy center of all that for the nugget of what it is we do like, what we’d prefer to experience. We ask, simply, what do we want? We hate that our president is incompetent so we know that we want one who is competent. We hate that our politicians don’t represent us so we know that we desire truly representative government. As creators of conscious politics, we would then expand and expand upon those ideas by crafting them into shiny, clear intentions. Then we would choose to focus our time and energy on those things.
As Albert Einstein famously said, we cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. If the problem is a “Muslim ban” or “children in cages” that feels antithetical to who and what America is and stands for then it’s incumbent upon us to define what America is and stands for as far as we’re concerned. If the problem is what we view as a dearth of compassion in government then it is incumbent upon us to define and describe what an abundance of compassion in government might look like. This is, simply, a more productive, smarter use of time and energy — our most valuable resources.
Anger As a Reminder to Take Responsibility
Much of why our anger is mis-used is because it is directed at other people. Other people are responsible for our circumstances, our pain, our displeasure. That’s the old consciousness because it defies the idea that when we choose to live consciously, we understand that we are not victims of our circumstances but architects of them. Our president is a champion of eschewing responsibility and blaming others. Bad! So if we are blaming the president for our woes, we are already on the wrong track.
Even if we abhor the president and everything he stands for and even if we didn’t vote for him, it is incumbent upon us to take responsibility, as Americans, first and foremost, for the government we have, which he did not create. If there are things about it we don’t like, are there places where we have contributed? For example, do we take responsibility for times when we’ve been apathetic, not involved, not paying attention? Do we take responsibility for the fact that racism has been baked into our system from day one and that it has persisted in overt and covert ways ever since? Are we doing anything to perpetuate it ourselves? Are we sloppy with our own finances while demanding transparent accountability from our government with regard to its finances? Do we demand low prices for clothes and food and electronics and household goods without taking any responsibility for the sub-standard working conditions of the people who make those things in foreign countries with lax labor laws? Do we take responsibility for creating entire categories of our economy that depend on cheap labor by undocumented immigrant workers and then scapegoat, harass, and, now, deport those very people as we tear their families apart? Do we malign massive corporate profits while we beat down the doors of their businesses and flood them with our dollars? These are just a few examples of ways to take responsibility for whatever is in our here-and-now experiences. They are not meant to create guilt or shame because it’s not about that. It’s just about responsibility.
This is nobody’s favorite practice. Yet as difficult as it can be to really take responsibility, the reward for doing so is tremendous: authentic, from-the-inside power. That’s fantastic — and exhilarating — on an individual level, to be sure. And for any group seeking political power, taking responsibility for what is vs. resisting what is, is the permanent path to authentic political power. Isn’t that what we’re after?
Anger As an Opportunity to Clean Out the Closet
Whenever any of us are in situations that are not to our liking — really not to our liking — we can look to see what belief (or set of beliefs) we have that would create the situation(s) we’re in. When we identify an old belief that’s hiding in the closet, so to speak, one that clearly doesn’t serve us, we have a real opportunity. We not only see how it creates in our reality, we get to decide, consciously, whether or not we want to continue to have it or whether we’d be better served by changing it.
In a conversation I was having with a team at Los Angeles City Hall on the day in 2017 that Donald Trump was inaugurated, one young woman was talking about how upset she was. She was feeling quite disempowered by the very notion that Trump had been elected and felt sure that she would not be able to fully and freely express herself, her views, and her opinions as a woman in our society. In her estimation, a sexist man who would enable widespread sexism from the bully pulpit would essentially render her and all women disempowered. Then, as is always the case, in the course of the conversation, I heard it: a belief. I asked her, Do you feel as though you need, or have to ask for, permission in order to feel comfortable expressing yourself? It resonated with her immediately. “Yes,” she replied. “Yes.” Though she hadn’t quite been conscious of it, this belief wasn’t far below the surface either. That’s just the way it works and the opportunity, then, is to clean out the closet, as it were, of any and all old, non-serving beliefs we have that prohibit us from going where we want to go.
She thought her problem was the president and the sexism she sees in him and the sexism she expected would only grow and how disadvantageous that would be for her and all women. I thought her problem was the belief she has that she needs permission before she can be who she is. She thought her work would be about fighting and resisting and protesting sexism. I thought her work would be about changing her belief that she needs permission from anyone at any time for any reason to be who she is. Who knows where the fighting and protesting and resisting might lead? For sure, changing her belief about permission would make sexism disappear from her experience forever. It would render it moot. People think I’m the crazy one for bringing consciousness to politics. I, of course, think it’s crazy not to.
Turbo-Charge Your Resistance/Protests/Fights
If you are currently engaged in political resistance, protest, and fight, your passions and commitment are to be honored and respected — and they certainly are by me. If your efforts are about creating a far more just, equitable, and harmonious society — a world that works for everyone — we are on the same page. Your energy and work are invaluable and, please, keep keep going.
And if you are at all intrigued by any of the ideas discussed here or if they resonate in any way, I invite you to consider layering the Conscious Politics Training I purvey onto your very good work. Indeed, it will make the most of your efforts and it’s the best way to create lasting political power.